Yes, it's that time again — you Houston Texans fans may have to search your memory banks for the last time your city hosted a playoff game (Hint: it was when the Houston Oilers lost in the divisional round to the Kansas City Chiefs at the old Astrodome on January 16, 1994). Yikes! Even the Detroit Lions have a playoff memory from January, 2000 (or, shortly before owner William Clay Ford hired this idiot) — it's the good people of Houston who have waited longer than anyone else for a moment like this. Congrats, peeps — enjoy it!
On to the linkage…
-- We'll be doing our Smarter Stats previews for all the playoff games (you can read Lions-Saints here and Bengals-Texans here), but if there's a wild-card preview you should read that isn't ours, make it the one written by Chris Brown over at the indispensable Smart Football site. If you're following Chris already, good for you. If not, what on Earth are you waiting for? [Smart Football]
-- It's my belief that San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith is the NFL's best defensive player regardless of position, and it appears that the All-Pro voters agree with my appreciation for his versatility. Smith was voted first-Team All-Pro as a defensive tackle, and Second-Team All-Pro as a defensive end. Entirely appropriate, as he creates havoc all over the line — as a 4-front tackle or as a 3-front end, he's as close to unblockable as there is in the league. [SB Nation Bay Area]
-- Should the Steelers be concerned about their main man on offense? The stats certainly point to a negative trend: Since Big Ben injured his ankle against the Cleveland Browns on December 8, he's thrown one touchdown and four interceptions … and the Steelers have scored a total of 23 points when he's been in the games. Mobility is a problem, which means … oh, hello, Messrs. Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller! [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]
-- Angry kickers? Oh, no! Well, yes. Atlanta's Matt Bryant is still seething from the experience he had with the New York Giants, who cut the former pawn shop employee in 2004, when Tom Coughlin replaces Jim Fassel. Bryant will get a shot at "revenge," or whatever revenge a kicker can exact, when the Falcons and Giants face each other on Sunday. [New York Daily News]
-- With former New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien headed off to Penn State, fellow former New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has the inside track on a return to the happy home a coach enjoys when Tom Brady is his quarterback. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that McDaniels will be hired as an offensive assistant through the playoffs, and he'll get his old job back after O'Brien leaves.
This would have required the St. Louis Rams to release McDaniels from his contract, but we're guessing that wasn't be a problem — after the way the Rams' offense performed in 2011, the only issue might have been people getting trampled underfoot as Rams execs ran to open the out door for McDaniels. [Boston Globe]
-- New Orleans columnist Bob Marshall sees similarities between the ways in which the Saints lifted up the Big Easy after Katrina and how the Lions are bettering the city of Detroit, which could use some good news after years of economic disaster that has left a barren shell. We're not here to compare and contrast catastrophes, but it's a valid point. [NOLA.com]
Finally, we point to the Onion's sports page, which no doubt brings the dreams of many Dallas Cowboys fans to life: Owner/GM/El Jefe Jerry Jones released from the team for underperformance in the personnel department. [The Onion]